Monday, January 24, 2022

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk

First Lines: From the first spin of the lock, she knew she wouldn't be able to open the safe. What does a librarian know about safecracking?
Liesl Weiss is content working behind the scenes in her job at the university library. She has become adept at performing all the tasks the head of department can't be bothered with. But when he is incapacitated by a stroke, Liesl finds herself taking over his job. 
The first thing she learns is that the department's newest and most prized book is missing. She wants to waste no time in alerting the police, but the president of the university and several others repeatedly tell her to keep quiet. That keeping the doors open and the donors happy is more important than finding a manuscript that costs half a million dollars. 

So Liesl conducts her own investigation, and it doesn't take her long to discover someone working in the department has to be responsible. 


The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections comes alive when describing precious manuscripts and the donors that make their appearance on university library shelves possible. The characters, on the other hand, don't shine nearly as brightly.

Liesl Weiss has spent so many years working in the shadows behind unreliable men that she tends to be gray and lackluster-- except when she fights to protect a fellow librarian's reputation. Each time she tries to do the right thing, especially when it involves having the police brought in to find the thief and the missing book, she's slapped down. The university president would rather whitewash everything that might make the donors unhappy.

It doesn't take much to deduce who is responsible for the missing book. No, what I am taking away from Jurczyk's book is her decidedly jaundiced view of donors. Of how much time must be spent in massaging their fragile egos. Of how a university's infrastructure can be geared toward reaping donor money than it is to keep the buildings themselves standing. Of how, when one university went so far past its goals it had to tear down a perfectly good building and build a new one rather than spend the extra money on badly needed maintenance and other programs because, well, everyone knows how donors love to see their names plastered all over buildings. As you can see, my own view of rich donors tends to be a bit jaundiced, too. 

As a mystery, The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is relatively easy to solve. As a character study, it's done in varying shades of gray. But come to life it does when describing wonderful old books and what must be done in order to have them on a university's shelves. I'm glad I spent some time with Liesl Weiss. She and I see eye-to-eye on many things.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk
eISBN: 9781728238609
Poisoned Pen Press © 2022
eBook, 336 pages
Amateur Sleuth, Standalone
Rating: B
Source: Net Galley


  1. Glad you liked it. I read about this book in Sarah Weinman's Crime column in the NYTimes Book Review and thought of you. I will read it. Too bad about the characters not being more interesting.

    I read S.R. White's Hermit, set in rural Australia, which was brilliant, although it took a bad turn when explaining the reason for the hermit having reorted to the life he had. But fascinating to read about how Dana Russo, a damaged detective, was able to question him and figure out what had happened.

  2. Perhaps it isn't at all surprising that readers are attracted to books about books, and even when they don't turn out to be as good as expected, there is almost always something satisfying in the pages. Liesl Weiss sounds like she makes this one well worth the effort.

    1. She does. I was particularly impressed with how she stood up for another librarian.


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